I Drove Edward Abbey's Truck
By Amy Brunwand and Gail Hoskisson
The auction of 4700-DN
"I have come for two reasons. To get drunk and buy a truck." Gail told a news reporter as she walked into the upscale Metropolitan Restaurant in Salt Lake City Utah on the evening of August 18, 1998. The truck in question was a battered and rusty 1973 blue Ford F-100 with a bluebook value of $500. The reason Gail wanted it was that it once belonged to Edward Abbey, author of "Desert Solitaire", anarchist defender of wilderness. Eds widow Clarke Cartwright Abbey had attached a red silk carnation boutonniere to the hood and then laid the rest of the bouquet inside the jockey box before she donated the truck to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) to be the main attraction in a silent auction to raise money for the protection of Eds beloved redrock desert.
Gail, who works as a medical technician and is by no means a millionaire, found herself bidding against several people who are millionaires. She was planning to bid up to $6000 of her own money and had the promise of $2000 more from Edward Abbey fans on the Abbeyweb Internet Listserv.
"It was my once in a lifetime chance to be as generous as the millionaires for a cause I really believe in." Said Gail. This is how she explains what happened next:
"When I put $9525 down on that bid sheet my dear husband Wayne leaned over and said "Gail, we could buy a new Ford Ranger and beat the shit out of it ourselves." I looked him straight in the eye and asked "then why haven't we done that?" He just laughed and said "You're right." Then he went and got me a fresh glass of wine."
As the bids soared higher, she noticed the wife of one of the millionaires pulling on her husbands sleeve and pleading:
Jackie O???? Gails evil twin took over and once again she upped her bid.
At the end of the evening, with Katie Lee singing conservation songs in the background, Gail who was by now pleasantly tipsy yet still elegant in her little black dress and girl shoes, posed for the news cameras leaning on the hood of her new truck. Mission accomplished. The final bid: $26,500.
"So strange." Gail described the experience.
A few weeks later I walked into the SUWA office for my usual volunteer night and there's Gail holding out a set of keys.
Voyage of EDSRIDE, November 1998.
Salt Lake City, UT. It takes about 28 hours in airports and airplanes to get from Kathmandu to Salt Lake City, and I was barely back in Salt Lake even that long before Wayne threw my stuff into the back of EDSRIDE (imprinted on the Delicate Arch edition of the Utah licence plate, naturally) and our little caravan took off southbound on I-15. Destination: Abbeyfest II, Death Valley. A gathering of subscribers to the Abbeyweb Internet newsgroup, our imaginary best friends.
Salina,UT. We found Bill Viavants distinctive yelloworange truck parked behind Moms Café, and Bill himself inside eating a stuffed pork chop and scones with honey butter. Thus armed with a support vehicle capable of towing EDSRIDE, we confidently launched into the sagebrush ocean.
Mesquite, NV. "Nevadas fastest growing community", said the sign, though it would probably be nicer there with more mesquite growing and fewer strip malls and "Adult Golf Subdivisions". EDSRIDE had not appeared in nearly an hour and we were imagining worst case disaster scenarios, so it was with some relief that we finally saw its crumpled front end coming down the road. Gail explained that the gas pedal had fallen off.
"Can you fix it?" she had asked Eric, the mechanic at the gas station.
A little bailing wire did the trick. Since Eric was a beer drinking man as well as a competent mechanic, Gail had tried to persuade him to take a Death Valley vacation. He remained unconvinced.
Las Vegas, NV. I was jet lagged into a state of space/time discontinuity that would make Hunter S. Thompson proud. Chuck the swampboy from Georgia had been pushing a luggage cart with an "AbbeyfestII or Bust!" placard around the Vegas airport for nearly three hours ever since we called from Mesquite to page "Abbeyfest Chuck". We finally located him and each other at the Southwest AirlinesTM counter. It was approaching midnight, but Peggy said there was a faux slot canyon in a gift shop at the Luxor casino, and we felt the need to go hike in it. Once inside we were instantly lost. Nobody had remembered to bring a GPS or compass, not even a topo map. The nickel slots were singing a siren song of free drinks and money for nothing. Finally we found a janitor who said the slot canyon was removed a few years ago and replaced with a buffet. Defeated, we decided to find a camping spot for the night. The casino itself seemed like an unlikely campsite, so we headed on down the excessively electrified strip, past fake New York, faux Paris and falsa Venezia and out into the desert.
Indian Springs, NV. I was hoping to camp at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site for old times sake. Last time I was there, there were thousands of tents, and protesters in tie dyed shirts and flowered sun dresses, and we painted handprints on butcher paper to hang on the barbed wire fence, and I was in love with a tall thin dark-haired man whose memory still makes my heart ache. But one look at Gails face and it was obvious that this evening we were going no further than the motel in front of us. Bill and I camped out back in Old Yeller next to the idling semi-trucks. In the morning I found Bill in the casino breakfasting on the steak & eggs special ($3.45) and a bloody mary.
"Ill have what hes having" I said.
One by one the other sleepers crawled out of bed to the casino and all concurred with Bills menu choice, except for Wayne & Gails temperate, vegetarian daughter.
Beatty, NV. We had parked Old Blue at the general store so Gail could pick up yet another 5th of Cutty Sark(TM) when a shiny SUV with Nevada plates, but a driver with teeth too good to be from Nevada pulled up beside us.
"Joe Cox! I thought you were a middle-aged lawyer guy in a suit" said the always tactful Gail to the fresh faced young man coming towards us. He had spied the EDSRIDE plate and recognized us, despite that he only knew us by e-mail.
Panamint Springs, CA. Who was going to drive the truck into Wildrose campground to meet the group? Properly it should have been Gail driving "Gails Folly" to triumph, but she was tired of wrestling with the duct tape covered steering wheel. Joe was still traumatized from riding those mushy brakes down a 9% grade. Maybe it should be swampboy Chuck who hadnt driven EDSRIDE yet? Chuck took a bottle of CoronaTM and spun it in the center of the group. It pointed straight at me, so I got the honors.
Wildrose campground & Abbeyfest II. You had to be there.
Zabriski Point, CA. "Have you ever heard of Edward Abbey?" Steve asked the other tourists, hoping to brag about driving around Death Valley in Old Blue.
"Yes" replied the self righteous old lady tourist "but Id rather talk about that Darwin fish on your truck."
Stovepipe Wells, CA. By coincidence, all three Abbeyfest hiking groups converged at the gas station at the same time. Brian, who as still on his extra-high-cal bicycle fuel diet after a month in Mexico, went inside to buy yet another 1000 calories worth of Dove BarsTM and Chocolate Covered Cherry Bombs and emerged with an LA Times announcing the resignation of the evil Newt Gingrich. Polyester clad RV drivers stared disapprovingly as Gail danced a jig right there among the gas pumps.
Death Valley, CA.
Steve lead the last hike of Abbeyfest to the sand dunes. Our Abbey inspired goalclimb to the top of the tallest dune and fling ourselves off. Enjoying the clear light and good company, we trudged along the crests of sand to the top. Steve was the first to fling himself, tumbling and somersaulting to the base of the dune. Joe rolled so vigorously he was overcome by vertigo. Chuck canonballed. Christer and Tim the Scandinavians demonstrated elegant telemark turns. Brian slid gingerly on both feet. Gail and Peggy ran, flinging their arms until Peggy tripped and tumbled into three nicely executed rolls at the bottom. Wayne swam down on his belly. With sand in our noses, our hair, our belly buttons, we hiked back to the cars and followed our fearless leader who said he knew of a good, though technically illegal, campsite. There was a glorious sunset and then it was dark. After a while, the lead car executed a perfect U-turn and we tailed along. Another U-turn.
Yet another U-turn.
"Lets just turn off the engine and wait. Theyll be back" Said Dave.
The campsite was eventually located and was indeed good. In the morning, the park cops came and ran us off, but it only spared us the sentimentality of having to say goodbye after another perfect evening of too much scotch whiskey by the campfire.
Going north on I-15. "This is a great truck" said Wayne.